oversight

Decennial Census: Answers to Hearing Questions on Census Address List

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-10-29.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States General Accounting Office                                           General Government Division
Washington, D.C. 20548



                 B-283977

                 October 29, 1999

                 The Honorable Dan Miller
                 Chairman, Subcommittee on the Census
                 Committee on Government Reform
                 House of Representatives

                 Subject: Decennial Census: Answers to Hearing Questions on Census Address List

                 Dear Mr. Chairman:

                 This letter responds to your request for additional information following the Subcommittee’s
                                th
                 September 29 hearing on the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program’s impact
                 on the census address list. The enclosure contains our responses to questions we received
                 from your Subcommittee dated October 13, 1999.

                 Because our responses are based primarily on our prior work, we did not obtain comments
                 from the Department of Commerce on a draft of this letter. We are sending copies of this
                 letter to the Honorable Carolyn Maloney, Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on the
                 Census; the Honorable William M. Daley, Secretary of Commerce; and the Honorable Kenneth
                 Prewitt, Director of the Bureau of the Census. We will make copies available to others upon
                 request. If you have any questions concerning this letter, please contact me at (202) 512-8676.

                 Sincerely yours,




                 J. Christopher Mihm
                 Associate Director, Federal Management
                  and Workforce Issues

                 Enclosure




                                                                 GAO/GGD-00-8R Answers to Hearing Questions on LUCA
Enclosure I

Responses to Subcommittee
Questions Following September 29,
1999, Census Address List Hearing
1. In your testimony you have stated that the Local Update of Census Addresses
(LUCA) program is one of only two components of the Census Bureau’s address list
development program that gives local governments input into the Bureau’s address
lists. In your opinion, why is it important for local governments to have input into
this process?

We believe that local government participation in the development of the census address list
is important to ensuring an accurate and complete address list—a cornerstone of a successful
census. As you are aware, the address list sent to local governments for review was compiled
from the Bureau’s 1990 address list and the U.S. Postal Service’s mail delivery sequence file.
The Bureau determined that the mail delivery sequence file was not uniformly kept up to date
by post offices around the country. While Bureau block canvassing was seen as a means to
correct this problem, this operation also has inherent limitations in finding missing addresses.
According to Bureau officials, local government officials may have a greater potential for
identifying some housing units that are hard to find or are hidden, simply because of their
knowledge and access to local data. For example, local governments may have alternate
sources of address information, such as utility bills, information from housing or zoning
officials, or 911 emergency services, that can help the Census Bureau build an accurate and
complete address list.

In addition, providing local governments with opportunities to actively participate in the
development of the address list can have an added benefit for the Bureau in building local
governments’ understanding of and support for the census. Local governments have key roles
in ensuring a successful census, not just in developing the address list but during subsequent
                                                                                     1
census operations as well; especially those designed to boost public participation. Local
participation in the development of the address list thus underscores the fact that the
decennial census is a shared national undertaking and that the active involvement of local
governments is critical to the census’ success.

2. If I understand the way this process works, errors in the address list are “found”
by participating local governments during the LUCA ’98 program, and corrected by
the Census Bureau and later added to the Master Address File (MAF). Can you tell
us what options does a local government have if these corrections are missed by the
Census Bureau and not accurately incorporated into Census 2000?

According to Bureau officials, the Bureau is field-verifying all address changes recommended
by local governments, including additions, corrections, and deletions that were not confirmed
by the Bureau’s block canvassing effort. However, Bureau officials said that this field
verification was not completed before last summer when the Bureau had to deliver the 2000

1
    Expanding the Role of Local Governments: An Important Element of Census Reform (GAO/T-GGD-91-46, June 15, 1991).




Page 2                                                          GAO/GGD-00-8R Answers to Hearing Questions on LUCA
Enclosure I
Responses to Subcommittee Questions Following September 29, 1999, Census Address List Hearing




Census address list used to print and mail census questionnaires to its vendors. In order to try
to develop as complete a mailing list as possible, the Bureau decided to include in the vendor-
provided address list those address changes that block canvassing had not confirmed and
field verification had yet to check. These address changes include, for example, about 2.2
million suggested additions from local governments. Thus, irrespective of the results of the
field-verification efforts, those addresses will be sent census questionnaires because they
already are included on the address file that was provided to the vendors. Any households at
those addresses will be given the opportunity to be included in the census.

However, the Bureau will not necessarily follow up at these addresses if a questionnaire is
not mailed back to the Bureau. The Bureau is providing feedback to the local governments on
the results of its reviews of the address list changes suggested by local governments as part
of LUCA. Should a local government disagree with the Bureau’s final determination about
whether to accept or reject a suggested address change, the local government can appeal the
Bureau’s decision to the Census Address List Appeals Office—an independent office
established by the Office of Management and Budget. According to Bureau officials, in cases
where the Bureau rejected an address and the address was not reinstated on appeal, the
Bureau will not follow up if a questionnaire is not returned. For addresses that were appealed
and reinstated by the appeals office, the Bureau will send a census enumerator to follow up
when a census questionnaire is not returned, as is consistent with the Bureau’s normal
follow-up procedures.

3. According to the Census Bureau, there are an estimated 39,000 local
governmental units in the United States. In your testimony, you have stated that
there were 16,675 jurisdictions eligible for LUCA ’98 activities. Were you able to
ascertain what percentage of the U.S. population this figure represents? What
percentage of the total addresses in the United States does this figure represent?

We were unable to determine the percentage of the U.S. population residing in jurisdictions
eligible to participate in LUCA ’98. However, according to Bureau officials, about 80 percent
of the nation’s addresses are considered “city-style” and thus would be the types of addresses
that could have been reviewed by the 16,675 jurisdictions during LUCA ’98.

4. In your testimony, you suggest that only 40 percent of eligible local governments
have actively participated in the LUCA ’98 program. Could you explain again how
you got to this number, and why it is different from the number that Director
Prewitt has used in his sworn testimony?

According to the Bureau, about 53 percent of the local governments (8,779 out of the 16,675)
eligible for LUCA ’98 signed confidentiality agreements and were shipped materials for
review—which became the criteria on which the Bureau based its calculation of the
participation rate. We attempted in our analysis to focus on a more direct indicator of the




Page 3                                                 GAO/GGD-00-8R Answers to Hearing Questions on LUCA
Enclosure I
Responses to Subcommittee Questions Following September 29, 1999, Census Address List Hearing




extent to which local governments may have actually reviewed address material. Thus, we
focused on the number of local governments that provided the Bureau with input to its
address list. As detailed in our testimony statement, of the 8,779 local governments that
signed confidentiality agreements and were shipped material for review, 6,673 provided input
               2
to the Bureau. That is, they returned annotated or unannotated material to the Bureau. These
6,673 local governments that provided input represent about 40 percent of the 16,675 local
governments eligible to participate in LUCA ‘98.

5. Based on GAO’s preliminary findings from the participation of local governments
in the LUCA ’98 program, can you illustrate GAO’s level of confidence of the
accuracy of the MAF to date? By your estimation, if there are 7 million suggested
changes in addresses for 40 percent of the eligible jurisdictions, could there be
millions more?

As noted during our testimony, it is not possible to estimate the level of accuracy of the MAF
at this time. The accuracy of the address list ultimately will not be known until after the 2000
Census has been conducted and when the Bureau evaluates the coverage of housing units in
the MAF. However, the Bureau expects that the MAF for the 2000 Census will be at least as
accurate as its address list was for the 1990 Census. Bureau evaluations after the 1990 Census
estimated that in 1990 about 3.6 percent of the housing units were omitted entirely or were
not accurately located, while about 2.8 percent of the housing units were erroneously
included because they either did not exist or were duplicates.

Participating local governments recommended about 7.7 million changes as a result of LUCA
’98. It is certainly possible that more changes could have been recommended had more than
40 percent of the eligible jurisdictions provided the Bureau with input. During our testimony,
we indicated that about 2,300 of the jurisdictions that had populations greater than 10,000 in
1990 did not participate in LUCA ’98 or LUCA ’99. Thus, there were some large localities that
did not participate. However, it is not possible to estimate how many additional changes, if
any, would have been recommended had more local governments participated in LUCA and
provided input to the Bureau.

6. During the hearing, Members of the Subcommittee heard various concerns from
witnesses that have experienced difficulties and were frustrated with errors in the
materials that the Census Bureau provided to them for review. In GAO’s findings,
there seems to be a high percentage of local governments or participating
jurisdictions that have expressed displeasure at the overall completeness and
accuracy of LUCA ’98 address lists and maps. Has this problem turned off many local


2
    2000 Census: Local Address Review Program Has Had Mixed Results to Date (GAO/T-GGD-99-184, Sept. 29, 1999).




Page 4                                                          GAO/GGD-00-8R Answers to Hearing Questions on LUCA
Enclosure I
Responses to Subcommittee Questions Following September 29, 1999, Census Address List Hearing




governments from participating in the program, and could it possibly introduce
more errors in the MAF?

We do not know whether problems in the accuracy or completeness of the Bureau’s address
lists or maps resulted in local governments declining to participate in the program. Our
survey found that about 18 percent of local governments reported encountering problems
with the accuracy or completeness of the addresses to a very great or great extent, while 16
percent reported encountering problems with the accuracy or completeness of the maps to a
very great or great extent. Our survey did not seek to determine the extent to which problems
with address lists or maps may have deterred local governments from providing input to the
Bureau.

As we noted during discussion at the hearing, LUCA is undertaken precisely so that local
governments can suggest improvements to the census address lists and maps. Thus, it is not
surprising, nor is it necessarily a deficiency, that a number of local governments expressed
concern about the accuracy and completeness of the Bureau’s address list and maps. On the
contrary, local government problems with the accuracy and completeness of census address
lists and maps—and recommended changes to those lists and maps—are the fully intended
outcome of LUCA.

Our work suggests that local resources are a major factor in determining the degree to which
local governments participate in census address list development efforts. As noted in our
statement, the availability of human resources to review LUCA materials appeared to be
particularly problematic for many local governments that participated in LUCA ’98. For
example, over 40 percent of the local governments we surveyed rated the availability of
human resources as less than they perceived necessary. Moreover, about 71 percent of our
survey respondents reported that the LUCA workload was greater than they anticipated it
          3
would be. These findings are reinforced by our 1990 survey of local governments that did not
respond to an operation broadly similar to LUCA that was done for the 1990 Census. We
estimated that 44 percent of the local governments that did not review the Bureau’s housing
                                                                                           4
unit counts for the 1990 Census lacked funds, expertise, or staff to carry out the program.

7. You state in your testimony that out of the 5.4 million suggested additions to the
address file, the Census Bureau has accepted about 2.7 million of these addresses.
The Subcommittee is concerned about those remaining 2.2 million addresses. Based


3
 Specifically, about 44 percent responded that that the human resources to conduct LUCA were not at all sufficient or only
sufficient to a small extent, and 71 percent responded that the workload was much or somewhat more than they had expected.
4
 See Decennial Census: Status of Housing Coverage Check and Postcensus Local Review Program (GAO/T-GGD-90-63, Sept. 25,
1990) and GAO/T-GGD-91-46, June 15, 1991.




Page 5                                                         GAO/GGD-00-8R Answers to Hearing Questions on LUCA
Enclosure I
Responses to Subcommittee Questions Following September 29, 1999, Census Address List Hearing




on past experiences with the Census Bureau, do you think that there is a possibility
that time may run out and these addresses may go unchecked?

According to a Bureau official, Bureau data indicate there is little possibility that time will run
out. First, as we noted in response to question number 2, irrespective of the results of the
Bureau’s field verification efforts, these 2.2 million addresses will receive a census
questionnaire, and people in any households at those addresses will therefore have the
opportunity to respond and be included in the census. In addition, according to a Bureau
official, Bureau data indicated that as of mid-October 1999, the Bureau’s field verification of
LUCA ’99-recommended address changes was near completion, and feedback had been
provided to a majority of those local governments. Field verification of the majority of LUCA
’98-recommended address changes had also been completed, and the Bureau was preparing
feedback reports for those local governments.




Page 6                                                 GAO/GGD-00-8R Answers to Hearing Questions on LUCA
Page 7   GAO/GGD-00-8R Answers to Hearing Questions on LUCA
Page 8   GAO/GGD-00-8R Answers to Hearing Questions on LUCA
Page 9   GAO/GGD-00-8R Answers to Hearing Questions on LUCA
Ordering Information

The first copy of each GAO report and testimony is free.
Additional copies are $2 each. Orders should be sent to the
following address, accompanied by a check or money order made
out to the Superintendent of Documents, when necessary. VISA
and MasterCard credit cards are accepted, also. Orders for 100 or
more copies to be mailed to a single address are discounted 25
percent.

Order by mail:

U.S. General Accounting Office
P.O. Box 37050
Washington, DC 20013

or visit:

Room 1100
700 4th St. NW (corner of 4th and G Sts. NW)
U.S. General Accounting Office
Washington, DC

Orders may also be placed by calling (202) 512-6000 or by using
fax number (202) 512-6061, or TDD (202) 512-2537.

Each day, GAO issues a list of newly available reports and
testimony. To receive facsimile copies of the daily list or any list
from the past 30 days, please call (202) 512-6000 using a touch-
tone phone. A recorded menu will provide information on how to
obtain these lists.

For information on how to access GAO reports on the INTERNET,
send e-mail message with “info” in the body to:

info@www.gao.gov

or visit GAO’s World Wide Web Home Page at:

http://www.gao.gov
United States                       Bulk Rate
General Accounting Office      Postage & Fees Paid
Washington, D.C. 20548-0001           GAO
                                Permit No. G100
Official Business
Penalty for Private Use $300

Address Correction Requested




(410520)